The Writing of Friendly Casualties

The novel-in-stories called Friendly Casualties arose from my need to confront my memories of what I lived through and witnessed during my 13 years, on and off, in Vietnam. The eight individual stories that make up the first half of the book, “Triage,” each came to me from an incident I was involved with. After those stories were completed and published, I realized that they were connected in ways I hadn’t understood when I first wrote them. Characters from one story appeared in another story; timing of stories overlapped; the settings were connected. I came to understand that the stories formed a tapestry. All that was needed was a narrative that drew the loose ends together. That pushed me into writing the novella that forms the second half of the book, “Healing.”

Once again, characters from earlier stories showed up in my writing. I sensed that I had to bring into harmony the various themes and threads, the anguish and fulfillments that permeated the entire text. So I wrote a scene for Maggie, the State Department intelligence specialist at the embassy in Saigon, and Sam, the soldier who had lost an arm. I had to show that the only way we who suffered through Vietnam could get on with our lives was to help each other. I ended the book with an unplanned meeting between Sam and Maggie when he asks her to have lunch with him:

“I haven’t had lunch with a beautiful woman in a very long time. The first time I saw you—”

“Sam,” Maggie said, “are you flirting with me?”

He blushed.

“I’m too old for you,” she said.

“No, you’re not. I mean . . . Miss Nilsson—”

“Maggie.”

“Maggie.” He hunched his shoulders. “I apologize. It’s just that  . . . What I mean is, you’ve been hurt. So have I. We’re what they call ‘friendly casualties.’ Maybe you’d let me comfort you. Just a little bit.”

“Sam, it wouldn’t be—”

“And maybe you could comfort me. Only just a little.”

Maggie started to shake her head.

“Maggie.” He took her hand. “We have to start somewhere. Have lunch with me.”

Maggie looked up into his lined face, so full of hope and pain. Her heart hurt for him.

“Sure,” she said at last. “Sure.”

 

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